ON Sunday January 19, 2020 residents from Volet and other neighbouring communities in Micoud gathered at the Micoud Secondary School to discuss designs for a structure to replace the failed culvert along the East Coast Highway at the Volet River crossing. The designs and a replacement structure are being funded and implemented through St Lucia’s Disaster Vulnerability Reduction Project (DVRP) administered through the Department of Economic Development, Housing, Urban Renewal, Transport and Civil Aviation. The project complements earlier works undertaken through the DVRP to rehabilitate and build resilience to the section of the Highway which collapsed at Canelles during the Christmas Eve Trough of 2013 claiming the lives of two persons.
The present culvert at Volet also failed under extreme flash flood conditions experienced during the Christmas Eve Trough, cutting off a critical transportation link between the North and South of the island, threatening lives and causing significant economic impact. While an emergency repair of the road segment allowed for reopening of the Highway, in the absence of a properly engineered long-term solution, flooding continues to plague the area during heavy rainfall events, impacting surrounding farmlands and posing a threat to transportation.
The community meeting was led by Calvin Lee, Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Ports and Energy (DIPE), the implementing agency for the project under the DVRP, and included presentation by Amarna Consult Ltd, a local engineering firm contracted to develop detailed designs for the structure. Senior Engineer of the DIPE, Amos Hippolyte explained that the designs, including detailed engineering drawings, technical specifications and bill of quantities, are expected to be completed by May 2020 with start of works anticipated during the third quarter of 2020.
Jude Regis of Amarna Consult Inc. described the three design options being developed, including a large box culvert with up to three segments, a higher capacity and more robust circular culvert system, and a bridge of at least 15m wide and 2-3 metres high. All options are being designed to last 50 years or more, have sufficient capacity and be structurally sound. The design scope also includes some form of riverbank protection in the vicinity of the selected structure. Mr. Regis highlighted that the design process includes hydrologic and hydraulic analyses of the Volet River watershed to ensure that the designs are informed by river flows anticipated under various flood scenarios. The results of a cost-benefit analysis and environmental and social impact assessment will determine the best design option.
In addressing residents, Minister Dr Gale Rigobert, Parliamentary Representative for the Micoud North constituency and Minister for Education, Innovation, Gender Relations and Sustainable Development stressed the significance of the project for Micoud and the country as a whole. Underscoring the implication of the culvert failing following the Christmas Eve Trough, Minister Dr Gale Rigobert recalled her conversation that day with the then Minister for Infrastructure in which she reported, “The country has been cut in half. I stood on one half and relatives, residents and people trying to access the airport were stuck on the other side of the island.” She also noted the long-term impact climate change is having on local rainfall regimes and river water levels while simultaneously bringing more frequent flash flood events and touted the project as one important to building the islands’ resilience.
Community members in attendance had an opportunity to ask questions and comment on the designs. The audience were actively engaged and provided helpful historic information about the Volet River, flood conditions in the area and some of the upstream and downstream issues contributing to the flooding. Residents also insisted that the structure be designed to accommodate major flood events and pedestrian access. Residents will be kept informed as the designs and project progress.